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Army Chief dismisses criticism, insists on need for public cooperation to overcome corona epidemic

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… latest cluster exceeds 1800; its eruption still a mystery

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Army Chief Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva strongly defended the armed forces role in the overall government effort to bring the fresh corona eruption under control.

Those who complained of the way the war-winning military responded to the growing crisis conveniently ignored the enormity of the task and the challenges faced by them.

Acknowledging there could be some shortcomings in the wake of what the media called the ‘Brandix eruption,’ Lt. Gen. Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), assured that the military and the police were doing everything possible to bring the situation under control. The Army Chief said so in response to The Island queries regarding public criticism directed at the military for being insensitive to those compelled to undergo quarantine at state-run facilities.

The wartime GoC of the celebrated 58 Division said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa tasked the military with the daunting task early this year when corona epidemic erupted. “In spite of difficulties, the armed forces and the police assisted the health administration to bring the first corona wave under control. Now, we are battling obviously a far bigger second eruption,” the head of the national covid task force said.

The Army Chief said that those who found fault with government efforts expressed views on the social media. Lt. Gen. Silva recalled how various interested parties criticized the war effort until the very end.

“They questioned our strength and capacity to bring the war to a successful conclusion. Similarly, we are being criticized by a few but overall the vast majority of people have faith in the military,” Lt. Gen. Silva said.

A section of the civil society, too, is critical of the way, particularly garment workers were treated.

Responding to another query, the CDS said that in spite of the Brandix eruption, the government apparatus managed to sustain the covid treatment project. Since the first detection made by the Gampaha Hospital in the new eruption of the highly contagious disease , the health authorities had recorded nearly 1,800 cases, mostly Brandix workers attached to its Minuwangoda apparel manufacturing facility.

Lt. Gen. Silva said that most of the affected had been in the Gampaha district at the time of the onset of the second wave and the situation could have been much better tackled if the health administration, the military and police received the anticipated cooperation. Unfortunately, those vulnerable and stricken by corona habitually tried to deny having had contacts with other people, hesitated to divulge where they visited et al, thereby had made things difficult for the health staff and the armed forces.

Lt. Gen. Silva said that the military health staff had been fully utilized to run facilities where approximately 10,000 were accommodated so far in military run quarantine centres.

Lt. Gen. Silva explained efforts made by the Navy to thwart illegal boat movements across the Palk Straits as part of the overall measures in place to meet the covid-19 threat.

Asked whether the government intended to expand the curfew now imposed in 14 police areas in Gampaha Division (Yakkala, Pallewela, Weliweriya, Weeragula, Minuwangoda, Veyangoda, Pugoda, Nittambuwa, Mirigama, Malwathuhiripitiya, Dompe, Kiridiwela, Ganemulla and Gampaha), two police areas in Kelaniya Division (Kandana and Ja-ela) and three in Negombo Division (Divulapitiya, Seeduwa and Negombo), the Army Chief said that a lot would depend on cooperation extended by the public. “Let me tell you, there are isolated cases in many districts outside Gampaha, Kelaniya and Negombo police divisions. If people really cooperated with the government, the situation can be gradually brought under control,” the Army Commander said. But, if the situation deteriorated for want of public cooperation, the police would have no other option but to expand curfew, he said.

Commenting on successful battle against the first wave and the ongoing second, Lt. Gen. Silva said that the second was a quite a challenge as it threatened a major revenue source. Pointing out that the declaration of curfew in the Katunayake police area on Thursday (15) at 5 am, Sri Lanka’s top military officer explained determined efforts made to sustain operations at export-oriented factories.

Lt. Gen. Silva acknowledged that the ongoing operation was far bigger than the one carried out early this year.

Contrary to earlier reports and indications the 39-year-old Brandix worker tested positive on Oct 2 at the Gampaha hospital was certainly not the first to be stricken with the deadly virus at the facility. Authorities were yet to establish the cause of the Brandix eruption, the Army Chief said.

“Inquiries are continuing,” Lt. Gen. Silva said, adding that there was no better apparatus than the armed forces and police to work with health administration to overcome the danger to the entire country.

 



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Jugglery alleged in Constitution making process: SJB, Gevindu make strong case against jumbo Cabinet

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Opposition and Samagi Jana Balavegaya Leader, Sajith Premadasa, says that the current economic crisis shouldn’t be exploited to form a jumbo Cabinet, under any circumstances.

 “The national economy is in such a pathetic state that those struggling to make ends meet shouldn’t be burdened further,” the Colombo district MP said. The growing opposition to further expansion of the Cabinet-of-Ministers is quite understandable, the former UNP Deputy Leader said, urging the government to drop the relevant provisions.

The Opposition Leader said so when The Island sought his opinion on the provisions, pertaining to the formation of a National Government, in terms of the proposed 22 Amendment to the Constitution. Declaring his party has absolutely no intention of joining the government, lawmaker Premadasa warned the public would revolt if the limits on the number of Cabinet Ministers and Deputies/State Ministers were violated.

 The SJB leader emphasized that whoever is in power should adhere to the limit of 30 Cabinet Ministers and 40 non-Cabinet rankers.

Lawmaker Premadasa said that political stability and economic revival couldn’t be achieved by expanding the Cabinet-of-Ministers.

 SLPP National List MP Gevindu Cumaratunga last week strongly condemned, in Parliament, what he called controversial provisions pertaining to the National Government. Cumaratunga told The Island that he took up the issue at a recent party leaders’ meeting. The provision for Parliament to decide the number of ministers and Deputies/State Ministers would be abused, the leader of civil society group Yuthukama said.

Referring to the inclusion of provisions pertaining to a National Government, in the 19th Amendment that had been endorsed in 2015, lawmaker Cumaratunga said that the proposed 22 Amendment interpreted National Government as an administration formed by the recognized political party or the independent group which obtains the highest number of seats in Parliament, together with the other recognized political parties or the independent groups.

The first time entrant to Parliament said that this should be examined, taking into consideration the strength of political parties represented in Parliament. Of the 225 MPs in Parliament, a total of 199 were elected: the SLPP (145/17 National List seats) and SJB (54/07 National List seats)) ticket. The third largest grouping in Parliament belonged to the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK/01 National List seat), the MP pointed out. The powers that be owed the public an explanation how the SLPP backed President Ranil Wickmesinghe intended to form the National Government without having a formal agreement with the second largest party in Parliament.

MP Cumaratunga recalled how the then UPFA MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara, at the Committee Stage of the 19th Amendment, asked the then Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa, PC, for an interpretation of national government and was told national government meant formation of an administration by the party securing the largest block of seats and the party with the second highest number of seats. Vasudeva Nanayakkara declared that they wouldn’t support the 19th Amendment unless the government provided an interpretation of the National Government.

However, what had been put to the Speaker for approval was very much different from the assurance given in Parliament, MP Cumaratunga said. The MP pointed out that the difference was instead of the union of party with the highest number of seats and the second highest being the national government, the gazette referred to the party with the highest number of seats and other parties in Parliament as the national government. The section in question is 46 of the 19th Amendment.

Lawmaker Cumaratunga said that the 2015 wrongdoing had been repeated.

Parliament website posted the 19th Amendment with the original clause given below: “If at the conclusion of the General Election held immediately after the coming into force of this Article, the recognized political party or the independent group obtaining the highest and the recognized political party or the independent group obtaining the second highest number of seats in Parliament agree to form a Government of national unity, then, notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (1), the number of Ministers of the Cabinet of Ministers and the number of Ministers outside of the Cabinet of Ministers and the Deputy Ministers, may be increased up to forty-five and fifty-five, respectively, if Parliament agrees to such increase, within two weeks of the first sitting of such Parliament.”

MP Cumaratunga said that finally the limits had been done away with for obvious reasons. Responding to another query, the Yuthukama leader said that the change of provisions, pertaining to the National Government, surreptitiously could be compared with the jugglery in manipulating the relevant Parliamentary Select Committee’s recommendations as regards the National List appointees.

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CEB again faces crunch situation with another unit at Norochcholai breaking down

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Three-hour daily power cuts a possibility

By Ifham Nizam

The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) now had to impose at least three-hour power cuts due to a sudden breakdown of the First Unit of the Lak Vijaya Power Plant Complex at Norochcholai, a senior electrical engineer said.

The second unit there has already been shut down for annual maintenance. Both units account for 540 MW of power with each usually producing about 270 MW.

CEB Chief Nalinda Illangakoon told The Island that he had instructed officials to go for maximum intake of hydro power, instead of turning to fuel powered generation, to meet the shortfall. It is understood that in the event of turning to the latter, the cost would be Rs. 47 per unit.

CEB Chairman Illangakoon said that it would take between 13 and 14 days to rectify the latest breakdown.

Responding to queries, he said that scheduled maintenance of the Second Unit would be further delayed due to some overseas technical experts contracting COVID.

He expressed confidence that the second plant would be restored and connected to the grid in November.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera earlier confirmed the breakdown of Unit 1.

He added: “Technical staff is working to identify the fault. Unit 2 is undergoing scheduled maintenance work. Unit 3 will continue to operate.”

However, he said West Coast and other Fuel Power Plants would be used to bridge the supply shortfall.

Meanwhile, the electricity sector regulator, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) has given the approval for three-hour power interruptions for the next four days.

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Now Prasanna alleges Diaspora link in SJB, JVP, and FSP

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Urban Development and Housing Minister Prasanna Ranatunga has alleged that the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), the Janatha Vikukthi Peramuna (JVP), its breakaway faction, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) and some civil society groups, affiliated to the Tamil Diaspora, were engaged in a campaign to remove Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) lawmakers from politics.

 The accusation was made at a meeting held in Colombo last Friday (12) attended by SLPP members of Parliament and Local Government representatives, representing the Gampaha District. The allegation coincided with the government delisting several Tamil Diaspora groups and individuals.

 Lawmaker Ranatunga, who is also the Chief Government Whip, claimed that this operation was being implemented, taking advantage of the ongoing protest movement. Minister Ranatunga said that the conspirators wanted to defeat the SLPP’s ideology at the next national level election.

 Acknowledging that the SLPP had suffered a setback, as a result of a protest campaign launched in the wake of the economic crisis, Minister Ranatunga stressed that they still dominated Parliament, therefore no one could ignore the 2020 parliamentary mandate received by the party.

 The Gampaha district SLPP leader said that the SLPP backed UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s candidature at the parliamentary contest to choose an MP to complete the remainder of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term because he was the best available choice (SF).

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